When Jessica Goldman Srebnick — daughter of the late Tony Goldman, a force behind the revival of SoHo and South Beach — moved to Miami 16 years ago to join her father’s business, she figured she’d stick around a year, maybe two.
“I was associate fashion director for Saks Fifth Avenue and was thinking about business school. My mother said, ‘You really should study with your father.’ I like to say that I went to the Tony Goldman school of real estate. I was 27 when he brought me down here to open The Hotel, which Todd Oldham designed. I figured I’d stay in Miami long enough to get the hotel started — and then I’d move back to New York.”
Thanks in part to her father, who had a knack for seeing thriving, artsy neighborhoods where there was only urban blight, the South Beach renaissance was well under way when Goldman Srebnick moved down. But as major metropolises went, the greater Miami area was still lacking.
“I would joke that I felt like the only person walking the streets of South Beach with a purpose. Everyone else was sort of meandering. I was a New York City girl. And South Beach was a resort town where it seemed everyone was on vacation. But in fact, the whole city was quickly becoming a very serious place to do business,” she says over the lunch racket at a packed Joey’s, the Italian café the family opened in the heart of Wynwood in 2008, when the neighborhood still felt desolate most afternoons and menacing once evening fell.
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Goldman, who died in September 2012 at 68 after a battle with pulmonary disease, recognized in his daughter his own passion for bringing derelict neighborhoods back to life and for preserving the character of a place instead of wiping everything out to build anew. They worked side by side, growing the company, developing their game plan for Wynwood, which they helped transform into a hot spot for Miami’s hipsters, artists and creative types. Before his death, Goldman named his daughter CEO.
“It has been a very difficult year. I had been sitting next to my father for 16 years while he piloted this jumbo jet and then one day, the pilot is not there and I have the controls,” she says. “I believed I was ready for the job, but I wasn’t ready to lose my dad.”
In 2006, with Jessica’s brother Joey acting as scout, the family started buying up chunks of Wynwood’s warehouse district, which was on its last legs. Today, more and more bars, cafes, shops, art galleries and workspaces are popping up, and with them more and more foot traffic. Wynwood now is a riot of color, internationally heralded for its proliferation of world-class street art. Ground zero for it all is the open-air gallery of murals called Wynwood Walls, dreamed up by Tony Goldman in October 2009 and opened two months later to coincide with Art Basel.
For the 12th edition of Basel this December, Wynwood Walls will open a show titled Women on the Walls, featuring original work by some of the world’s best women street artists. On Dec. 6, on what would have been Goldman’s 70th birthday, a memorial garden named Tony’s Oasis, designed by star graffiti artist Kenny Scharf, will open at Northwest 22nd Street and Second Avenue.
Since Goldman’s death, his daughter has pushed their Wynwood plan to full throttle. South Beach’s popular JugoFresh, the organic cold-pressed juice company, recently leased a large space adjacent to Wynwood Walls and is expected to be open in time for Basel. The Green Space, at 310 NW 26th St., recently came online with 10,000 square feet of retail and office space and its exterior of living foliage. Expected to be operational by mid-December is Wynwood House, just across the street from The Green Space and offering 7,000 square feet of commercial space with live/work units on the top floor. Both buildings will host pop-up galleries during Basel.
“After my father died, it took me a while to get my sea legs back. But now it’s time to move forward. I don’t have my mentor, but I feel like I’m still learning from him, like he is still very close to me,” says Goldman Srebnick, 43, who is already studying the next moribund urban center to jump start. (She’s not ready to tip her hand about where that may be.)
“I’m not interested in just managing assets. We are a growth company. We like to come in and try to make a difference in a city. But I want to go slowly. A lot of developers believe if you build something brand new, people will just come. But that’s not how you create a real neighborhood. You can’t just invent a soul for a place out of nothing. You have to understand the DNA of a neighborhood first.”
Which means there is no cutting corners, no clear formula that can be repeated.
“I’m asked to speak all over the country about our company. And even those who have never heard of us are flipped out by our story. All you have to do is show them the before and after pictures of SoHo or South Beach. Right away, people want us to come into their communities. We have been asked to do a Wynwood Walls in Beijing and in other parts of the world. But we don’t believe in duplicating. We like to find what is already there that makes a place special and build on that.”
She’ll retain many of the lessons she learned from her father, but she says she feels confident enough now to also let her own personality and business style shine through.
“I believe I am carrying him inside in some crazy way. But I have also become more self-reliant,’’ says Goldman Srebnick. “We are alike in many ways. But also different. My dad didn’t know how to work a computer and he couldn’t have cared less about learning. He always said, ‘If you want to talk to someone, you pick up the phone. If you want to make a deal, you sit with them.’ I agree. But I also believe in the Internet, in marketing, in social media. He was such a huge personality, very comfortable in his own skin. He was a huge risk taker. I’m more risk averse. He was a deal junkie. I’m more of a construction junkie. The part I like most is taking a dilapidated building and turning it into something beautiful.”
Goldman Srebnick may have felt like an outsider when she first arrived in Miami. She may have been counting the days before she could head back home to New York. But today she’s as much a part of the fabric of the city as anyone can be.
Her husband is Scott Srebnick, a criminal defense lawyer and the son of Cuban immigrants. She is raising three young sons who speak fluent Spanish. And thanks to her mother-in-law, she has learned to make a mean arroz con pollo, ropa vieja, fricase de pollo.
“I understand Spanish, but I’m still afraid to speak it. When you live around a whole Cuban contingent, everybody talks so quickly. It’s intimidating,” says Goldman Srebnick.
It could be said she married into serious Wynwood cred. Her mother-in-law, Marita Feldenkreis, has owned a zipper factory in the neighborhood for more than 30 years (Marita’s husband, the Cuban-born George Feldenkreis, is CEO of Perry Ellis International).
“My mother-in-law is amazing. But when we first came into Wynwood to buy properties, she didn’t get it. She said, ‘What are you coming here for?’ But we were looking at the character of the neighborhood. We knew it had potential. It was gritty but it was innovative. It was colorful. It was fearless.’’